The center of the Roman Catholic Church is found within the city of Rome, and it has its own country called the Vatican City. This is the smallest country in the world with only 0.44 square kilometers of land. However, its small territory contains many mysteries and unique facts to learn about.
The historic value of the Vatican City to Catholicism is seen through the archives of the Vatican Library as well as the residence of the Pope. This makes the country both a tourist attraction and a place of pilgrimage.
Vatican City Facts
1. The Vatican City was established through the Lateran Treaty
An agreement called the Lateran Treaty was supported by the Kingdom of Italy and the Catholic Church’s official representatives, who are called the “Holy See”. The treaty resolved the “Roman Question” that clarifies the right of popes to control their territory. The Vatican City was established because of the treaty and it allowed the Roman Catholic Church to control their territory without interference from Italy. Benito Mussolini signed for the Italian government while Pietro Gasparri signed on behalf of the Vatican City.
2. The Pope is the head of the State
It might not seem obvious but the Vatican City is an absolute monarchy. The head of the State and the one who makes the decisions for the Vatican City is the appointed Pope. The Pope also serves as the head of the Catholic Church. Instead of a public vote, the Pope is selected through a secret ballot among the College of Cardinals. The Pope cannot be impeached, and he is only replaced when he resigns from the post or he dies, a fun Vatican City fact.
3. Pope Benedict XVI was one of the few Popes to resign
Pope Benedict XVI resigned from his position in 2013 because of his old age. The most previous one to have resigned before Pope Benedict XVI was Pope Gregory XII in 1415. It took about 600 years before another Pope resigned, an interesting fact about Vatican City. Because the position of becoming a Pope has no age limit, most of the Popes have given up the title only after their death.
4. A secret exit is found in the Apostolic Palace
The Apostolic Palace is the official home of the Pope. To keep him safe, there is a secret exit called the Passetto di Borgo that links to a castle where the popes are hidden. The secret exit is connected to a castle called “Castel Sant’Angelo”. This same passageway was used by Pope Clement VII to flee Emperor Charles V. Today, the secret exit is now a museum that people can visit.
5. The official protector of the Vatican City is the Swiss Guard
The Pontifical Swiss Guard, also known as the Swiss Guard, is responsible for protecting the safety of the Pope at all times. They were established by Pope Julius II in 1506 as a military unit of the State. Around 135 soldiers are present in Vatican City at all times to patrol streets and monitor suspicious activities.
6. Vatican City is the only country to be part of the UNESCO Heritage Site
UNESCO granted the Vatican City the title of World Heritage Site in 1984. The historical archives and Catholic buildings of the small country became the main reason for granting the title. The UNESCO Heritage site requires that all of the old buildings that feature Renaissance and Baroque style must be preserved and will be protected by international laws.
7. No official language according to their constitution
The Vatican City is the only remaining Latin-speaking country in the world and they still use Latin for masses and official documents. However, an interesting fact about Vatican City is that Latin is not the official language of this country. There is no mention of either Latin or Italian being considered as the “mother tongue” of the State. Only the Catholic Church has made Latin its official language.
8. Vatican Museums were built by Pope Julius II
The Vatican Museums span about 9 miles in length and it contains several collections of Catholic paintings and Roman sculptures. It was founded during the 16th century under the directive of Pope Julius II. The famous Sistine Chapel and Stanze di Raffaello are also part of the museum’s tour area for visitors.
9. The original St. Peter’s Basilica no longer exists
The first St. Peter’s Basilica was commissioned by Emperor Constantine and it was initially built in Rome during the 4th century AD. It was destroyed when the Catholic Church lost financial and political support in Rome. Because of this incident, Pope Julius II decided to take down the original St. Peter’s Basilica and rebuild it in Vatican City. Construction of the new basilica started in 1506 and was completed in 1626, a fun Vatican City fact.
10. St. Peter’s Basilica isn’t the Mother Church of Catholicism
The St. Peter’s Basilica is given high regard because it is found in the Vatican City, but the true Mother Church of Catholics can be found in Rome, Italy. The Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano is considered as the head of all Catholic churches in the world because of its ties to ancient Catholicism in Rome. The Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano is also the only church to have the title of “archbasilica” in its name.
11. Citizenship is granted because of work
Visitors can become citizens of Vatican City if they’re able to find work in the country. However, citizenship is temporary because it is only granted to those who work in the country. Citizenship is removed immediately if someone no longer works in Vatican City. Most of the citizens are the cardinals, bishops, clergy, and Swiss Guard soldiers.
The Vatican City may be a very small country, but it is rich in history regarding ancient Roman tradition and the Catholic Church. Found in the country are archives and old churches that are relevant not only to Catholics but also to the world. The country is also famous because it houses the Pope’s official residence. Throughout the years, the Pope has influenced changes around the world and has forwarded international relations due to the religion’s popularity.
I hope that this article on Vatican City facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Country Facts Page!